Before Moxon vises were all the rage I used to make vises as I needed them. I would make them from pipe clamps and threaded rod. For example when I needed a long vise to hold the sides of the chest I was building for my grandson below, I made a vise to hold them. It was two pipe clamps threaded under my bench top with a chop made of a hunk of Maple the same thickness as my benchtop. It worked great believe it or not and I used it pretty often.
In those days I contrived most of my holding appliances including my end vise out of pipe clamps. If you want to see the kind of thing I am talking about check out this article. But as time went on I started hearing about Moxon vises. So eventually I just had to build one rather than improvise one for every need. So I built the one on the right.
You may notice though I have not completely parted from my former ways. This vise is built around two 12″ pieces of threaded rod and 6 nuts. Baby steps I guess.
The design of this vise is really simple. It is just two threaded rods and 6 nuts. The rods are tightened to the rear chop. I left the rods long so that in a pinch I could increase the capacity of the grip.
The only tricky part is building the hand wheels. They were a glue up of White Oak. I drilled the parts then cut in the opening for the nut. After fitting the nut flush to the bottom of the hand wheel I glued on another small disk of White Oak and it became a very respectable hand wheel. The Oak is heavy enough that the hand wheels spin really well under their own weight. The upshot is that this vise works really smoothly.
Building a Set of Kitchen Chairs
It all starts with a prototype
Before I started on the project of building a set of kitchen chairs for my son I thought I better build a prototype.
Since I had never built a chair before I thought I had best start simple. And what could be more simple than this chair. Four legs and a back. No rungs, no bending.
For the most part I was quite happy with the result, it was even surprisingly comfortable. But there were a few problems, no deal breakers but disturbing nonetheless. The biggest issue was that if you put this chair on a slippery floor, like the bamboo floors in my house, the legs flexed out enough to notice. It was not dangerous but noticeable. When you sat on it you had this moment where you wondered, is this chair ok? But fundamentally I liked the chair I just realized I was going to need rungs in the legs to make this the chair I really wanted.
Armed with that knowledge I pressed on to make four chairs for my son’s apartment. They would need a slightly bigger seat, and 3 rungs but I was satisfied this was it.
Then it was just a matter of clamping the seat blank to my saw bench and boring and reaming the sockets for the legs. This is where it actually pays to build custom tools. I made a custom bevel gauge with an overly wide handle and a tall wooden try square that stands nice on it’s own.These tools were great to use as references for staying on my sight lines while boring.
Preparing the Legs
As you can see above I do not own a lathe. But I am not sure I want a lathe for these chairs. I have come to really like the asymmetrical look of the legs I made for my stools, and shaping them with simple hand tools is one of my favorite parts of building things like this. I go for a look where the bottom of the leg ends up teardrop shaped and the last quarter of the legs length appears to turn back in toward the inside of the chair.
Assembling the chairs
After fitting all the parts I was ready for dry fitting the chairs and getting a final look at the design. What I found at this point was that my new seats looked bad. After examining the chairs and comparing them to the prototype I realized why I was happy with the prototype and totally unhappy with the new chairs. It actually was not a big change, I needed to make the radius on the back corner larger. When I did this the form of the seat suddenly felt much more balanced and pleasing to the eye.
All I had to do then was shape the seats, glue, trim, and finish. Which was a workout with my drawknife, planes, and scrapers but it was fun.
In the end the chairs were very sturdy and I think good looking.
Building a compass plane
A compass plane is a tool for carving out concave surfaces, like chair seats and boat parts. However, until recently I have not really considered buying or making one because I was always able to find a work around.
When I started building stools and chairs though, I got more serious about adding some tools to my kit. Travishers and inshaves are traditional tools for chair building, but again good ones are very expensive. And I was wondering how often I was actually going to use one of these tools. Then I watched Paul Sellers build a simple compass plane on his Masterclass site and got inspired.
Step One – The Blade
In Paul Sellers’ video he made the blade as well the plane. I was not really up for this kind of thing so I used an old block plane blade I had laying around since the 80’s for the core of this project. The rest of the plane body was just Maple scrap I had laying around.
The beauty of a project like this is that it does not take much material. It is pretty much all fun and very little risk.
The only innovation that I added was in the shaping of this plane. I have made a bunch of planes over the years. Along the way I have developed some pretty strong opinions of what makes a plane nice or terrible to use. How a plane fits in your hands is very high on the list of important traits for any plane.
Shaping the body of the plane
This is a small plane, which means that in use it will need to be gripped in a variety of ways. What’s more this plane is designed to work in unusually shaped material, which means frequently changing direction and orientation of the tool. The grip on the tool above is very intentional, not an attempt to look cool. It is a very right handed tool to begin with. The thumb notch you see on the right hand side of the picture above (the left hand side of the tool) is designed to catch my left thumb when I am holding this plane in a conventional way. When held in this way my left forefinger runs over the top and into the notch on the other side.
When more force is needed the groove along the top is for the edge of my left hand as I cup my left hand over the chip escapement. And finally that same groove will accommodate my right forefinger tip when I am using the plane one handed. I am very pleased with this plane body. It feels good almost any way you would want to hold it in use. The only quibble I still have is that I still need to round the corners off of the blade a bit more. This will make it more comfortable when I am using it one handed.
Hope this inspires you to try. It is not as hard as it seems. The video at Paul sellers site is available with a free sign-up so have a look at that as well.
Examining Stool Samples
Lately I have been making stools. As I mentioned in a previous post, staked furniture is something I had not done. So I tried it, and as is often the case one thing leads to another and now I have done four of these. With the last three being variations on a theme. So I thought I would take the time to analyze what about these variations works and does not work from a design perspective.
My first High Stool
I have already written a short article on this stool but here I want to look at the design details and do a bit of analysis.
First if you compare this stool to the others in this group you will see that the legs are noticeably thicker. What is surprising is how much this is noticeable when you consider that the legs on this stool are at most 3/8″ thicker than the thinnest legs.
This is a 28″ high stool with a “D” shaped seat. The “D” shaped seat is the same on all three stools. The differences all lie in the legs and bracing. But when you compare them side by side they are very different looking and feeling though in their specs they vary only a little.
For example the difference between the the angle on these legs which look almost vertical and those on the the stool below is only 2 degrees.
While I don’t dislike the appearance of this stool, it is the least stable of the three due to the fact that the feet are only slightly proud of plumb from the corners of the seat.
A wider Stance
This stool is my most recent attempt at the perfect 3 legged stool. (As if there could be such a thing) But I have to say that it is better in almost every respect than the stool above.
It is lighter, more stable, and I think more attractive due to thinner legs and braces. And although only time and abuse can tell for sure. It seems to be every bit as strong in use. Although I would not want to jump up and down on the front cross brace. It is just over an inch thick with 5/8″ tenons and it is made of pine. But in normal use the stool is very rigid and feels very solid.
The finish is paste wax over Boiled Linseed Oil. It is a nice finish for a chair. The wax gives it a nice sheen and nice combination of smooth but not overly slippery.
From the standpoint of aesthetics this is my favorite version so far. When you see it in person it is very light and elegant looking. You are almost afraid to sit on it. But it is actually quite strong.
The winner for stability
I also used the same seat shape with 4 legs just to see the difference. The leg profile is very similar to the other two and the height is only 24 inches instead of the 28 inch high I used on the other stools.
While this design is not going to give anyone chills. This stool is really strong and stable and very comfortable.
The big difference with this design is that assembly is much more challenging. Basically you have to tease all the pieces together with glue pretty much at the same time. I needed some extra hands on this one. But the finished product was pleasing. The picture shows this stool before the finish was complete, but after a few more coats of oil and a bit of wax it is a good looking stool.
A summary of what I learned
There are a few things about design that I learned in this process.
I like the thinner legs, but this means more bracing.
Three legged stools need a lot of rake to be stable. On a long legged stool this means either a really thick top and thick legs, or you need to brace them with rungs.
Pine actually works for this kind of project, I was not sure that it would. You can not get away with the kind of design extremes with pine that you can with a harder, stronger wood, but it works. And the end result can be quite light and elegant.
Building a White Oak Sideboard
On a recent trip home to visit I ended up coming home with a trunk load of home sawn White Oak. (Too bad I was not driving a truck 😉 After staring at it for several months in the corner of my shop I finally determined that I would build a small sideboard with it. The inspiration for it came from a picture my wife found on line but it quickly morphed into this sideboard due to the amount of Oak I had to work with and frankly some if it was not to my taste.
First the plans
As you can see the plans I used to build this project were minimal to say the least. But they were to scale so I could pull dimensions off this drawing easily with a scaling ruler. I generally do not like to spend more energy than necessary on drawings. Mostly because no design I have ever drawn including this one, ever survived the build. As you can see I originally intended to make this more of a craftsman piece with pinned joints everywhere. By the time I got to the preliminary assembly I was already pretty sure that I did not want to go there. Preferring instead to keep it clean and very simple.
Then the bad news
The first thing that I learned about this oak tree is that in the couple of hundred years it was soaking up the sun on my uncles farm. It developed a pretty foul attitude. The minute I pulled my first chips from this very old oak I knew this was going to be no picnic. This old tree was going to fight me every step of the way. Although the grain at first glance looked pretty straight, in reality it had grown with a twist which put a lot of fun into finding the direction to plane. On top of that it was harder than diamonds and sent me on a lot of trips to the sharpening stones. But it looked good so, I moved on.
Since all of the oak that I had was 1″ and I wanted the grain to match. I needed to build my legs up from 1″ stock. While this is not my favorite way to do legs, since this oak all came from the same tree I was able to match the pieces pretty well. In the end I am pretty happy with the results. This was a multi-step process since I could not simply build them up into 2″ billets. I matched not only the grain pattern but also grain direction since this was pretty cantankerous wood to plane. I also added extra beef anywhere I was going to cut a mortise. The finished legs at the right turned out to be pretty accurate and looked like they belonged together.
The legs are not solid all the way through since I had just enough oak for the project. I had no material to waste, so I could not afford any excess, or any mistakes for that matter.
The panels for the ends and doors were for the most part pretty straight forward. But this is one of the rare times I used power tools on this job. (My original intent was to use none.) I used my table saw to deeply curf each side of the board I wanted to resaw. Then finished up with my frame saw by hand. This actually worked really well, and left me with bookmatched panels I was pretty happy with.
The frames I mortised by hand and grooved with my home built plow plane. I think that was the most fun aspect of this whole project. I was using wood grown on my uncles farm. And I was using about 6 or 8 of my hand built tools to make this sideboard for my wife. The whole thing left me feeling very connected to the piece.
Putting it all together
Assembly was in some ways the most challenging part. I had to borrow some big pipe clamps first of all, since I did not have enough. But mostly the challenges were in getting the drawer rails just right. I did not use any hardware so I lined the runners with white oak strips and seriously over built them. I knew that these drawers were going to be heavy so they had to fit right and be very strong. I also had to design a drawer stop that I could flip out of the way when I wanted to remove the drawers.
That just left me with final fitting of the drawers and doors. Which went without a hitch for the most part. This was a blessing since sometimes doors can really be a pain to get right.
I finished this project with Danish Oil Finish. Not always my favorite but it did work really well in this case. The finish turned out with just the right amount of sheen which for me is very little. I like the wood to be rich colored and to glow. I do not like a shiny plastic coating and for the most part I despise paint, no matter how many people tell me how good it looks.
The “right” amount plane iron camber
Not another article on plane sharpening!
Sharpening a plane, or sharpening anything for that matter is always interesting to talk about. This is because so many people are so sure they have in fact reached sharpening Nirvana. And they can’t wait to tell you about it, and why your way is silly. Nevertheless, I think I finally have some advice regarding plane blade camber that I am not afraid to share publicly. After trying a lot of things for quite a few years I think I have a way that works well and is pretty easy as well. So here goes…
What is a “cambered” blade?
This is nothing more than sharpening the cutting edge with a bit of a curve in it instead of straight across. Nothing more. There is a reason people like to talk about it though. The amount of camber you put on a blade makes a huge difference in the way the blade performs. Though it is not rocket science, it really does matter how much camber you put on various plane irons. And to make it more interesting, the amount of camber you need varies depending on the depth of cut you plan to use.
The “right amount” of camber
For me, the real questions start with how much camber is the right amount? Here is where years of trial and error come into play and what I hope to contribute with this article. So here is the secret formula as far as I am concerned.
The “right” amount of camber should produce a shaving that is 90-98% as wide as the blade and it should feather to nothing at both edges.
This means that the correct amount of camber is directly related to the depth of cut you plan to make. This is why I do not even try to set up one plane to do everything. While this is possible and if you only have one plane it is necessary. If you have several planes set them up and use them to their best advantage. I sharpen each iron according to how I plan to use it. Scrub, Jack, Smoothing, Jointing all have different cambers. Look at the picture of the transitional plane above and you will see I am not taking a full width cut. That is because it is not cutting at full depth in that picture. A properly cambered blade should produce near full width shavings when you are working at the desired depth. The number 6 plane pictured above is perfect for final smoothing and flattening on a panel. It is cutting almost full width while set for a very fine shaving.
How to achieve the perfect camber
I have 5 or 6 planes that I use a lot. Each one of them has a slightly different blade profile. So if you are just pulling your plane out of the box. I would recommend just honing the edge and using it until you get a feel for the kind of use you are going demand from it. If you find for example that you are almost always using the plane set for a very fine cut then you need very little camber on that plane.
My “system” and I use that phrase very loosely here, is a matter of adding camber to the iron until it performs at it’s best when it is set to the depth you prefer to use with that plane. So start flat or nearly flat and add camber with each sharpening until you reach what you feel is the optimum balance of width of cut and depth of cut with a smooth reduction of shaving thickness toward each edge of the blade. On a very fine cut it should look like the picture above with the shaving turning from solid in the center to lace at the edges.
Since there are an infinite number of opinions on this I am just going to tell you how I do this and you can adopt or discard anything you like. I do not really like orienting the stone lengthwise away from my body though many do. I prefer to orient the stones perpendicular to my body. This is done for basically two reasons.
I sharpen in a figure 8 pattern, I find this honing pattern works well when trying to hone a smooth camber on a blade.
Some of my plane irons are wider than some of my stones. So I have to work perpendicular to the stone in these cases. Since I rely a lot on muscle memory I like to keep my motions consistent. So I work that way on all my stones, even when I do not have to.
To add camber using the figure 8 sharpening pattern you just alternate pressure from the left corner to the right corner while keeping the elbow of your back hand anchored at your waist. For me that means my left hand is applying downward pressure just behind the cutting edge. With a finger just above each corner of the blade. My right hand is responsible for maintaining the honing angle so that elbow is locked at my side.
On blades with a lot of camber like a jack or a scrub plane profile. Your anchor hand need to remain at a fixed height. So keep your elbow anchored. However, you will need to turn a bit at the wrist to allow the blade to follow the arch smoothly.
The last thing I would say is important is to use a lower bench, mine is 30″ high. That gives more control and allows you to rock your entire body back and forth without altering the angle of the blade relative to the stone.
Eat the meat spit out the bones!
Three Legged Staked Stool
My first staked furniture
Over the years I have made many stools and such, but up until recently I have never made anything with staked leg construction. After receiving a Lee Veritas reamer and taper tenon cutter for Christmas (very nice) I had to make something with it naturally so I made a small table and the stool on the right.
The table was especially fun since my granddaughter helped me make it and in the end she and I carved our names in it. She loves it.
Staked furniture is pretty straightforward stuff to make. However, I did learn a couple of lessons that are probably worth passing along if you are interested in this sort of thing.
If you buy a Lee Veritas reamer congratulations it is great. But do not even try to use it until you have adjusted down to its finest cut. Mine came set for a much too heavy cut and I struggled through a few cuts thinking this was just the nature of the tool. When all I needed to do was back off the iron.
This is the most important thing I learned. There is no substitute for getting your angles exactly right as you taper your holes. It is true this is pretty forgiving work, but you will fight a lot of unnecessary fights if you are the least bit sloppy in reaming your holes.
Do not even attempt anything with your rungs until you are completely satisfied with the rake and splay of your legs. Your legs should look exactly like you want them, before you attempt to strengthen them with rungs.
With that said…
Never practice your mistakes
Things music taught me
Before I was anything else, I was a musician. My mother was a church organist and a choir director. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the end of a pipe organ bench looking up at all those pipes listening to my mother practice.
When I came of age I was given music lessons as a matter of course. I began to play in band. To me that meant practicing two to four hours a day. Because I wanted to be the best. I learned over time though that it wasn’t how much I practiced that made the difference, but how I practiced.
The “Secret” to effective practice
The “secret” is this. You must never practice a mistake. If you do, that mistake will come back to bite you at the most inopportune time. Like for example, while you are standing in front of a bunch of people performing. If I made a mistake I immediately corrected it and then played through that passage correctly until I could do it without thinking.
There were more than a few well meaning teachers (and my mother who had to listen to this incessant repetition) who encouraged me to just push through when I made a mistake. But somehow I realized early on that if I practiced a mistake, I would repeat that mistake under pressure. The government oddly enough validated and reinforced this to me later, as I was being trained in weapons and tactics. They drummed the following into me as fact. “You will do under pressure what you have practiced in training”. It will happen without any thought. Worse yet, under pressure it may not even be possible to consciously overcome it.
What does this have to do with woodworking?
Although I was young, I had stumbled on to an axiom of real value. Never practice a mistake. As I practiced those corrections were pushed into the realm of “muscle memory” by brute repetition. Later under pressure I rarely reverted to my previous errors. I think this concept turns out to be really important in woodworking as well.
Hand tool woodworking requires “feel” and an “eye”. Whether you are cutting dovetails or sharpening your chisels, you are doing most things by feel and by eye. But if we are not careful we can allow ourselves to practice mistakes that then become habits. This process of reinforcing bad habits makes certain tasks very frustrating. We will find ourselves seemingly programmed to make mistakes. Which is exactly what is happening. If we do not address this problem effectively we may even be tempted to quit. Misled by our bad habits into thinking that we do not possess the “knack” for woodworking.
The fact is, we are making many of these mistakes not because we lack the talent. Rather the mistakes we make are often practiced mistakes that we have committed to muscle memory through repetition. Those mistakes come back to haunt us at the worst possible times. Like when we are making a difficult cut in an expensive piece of wood. But those mistakes can be overcome with proper practice. We need to reprogram our muscle memory and in the process develop both our “feel” and our “eye”. In time we will find ourselves doing the right thing by reflex.
Personally I have noticed this principle the most in sharpening and planing. To be sure there are many that subscribe to the notion that we should all just buy a collection of sharpening jigs and let the jigs do the work. I suspect this is the motivation behind those weird fences that have been designed over the years for planes as well. But I think skill is much more valuable than gadgets for the woodworker.
As I discipline myself in both of these areas to be consistent and careful, I find my sense of “feel” improving greatly. Often I will be planing an edge when I suddenly become convinced that it is off. I may not be able to see it but I know it. So I throw a square to the edge and sure enough, through careless body position or technique I have allowed either the near or far end to drift off of square.
I have two choices at this point. Make hasty corrections and move on(sometimes necessary). Or take the time to analyze what went wrong and practice cutting the edge exactly square with the right technique. While we train it is insanely important to check what we are doing constantly so that each stroke is done accurately and with correct technique. The more often you practice the correct form and technique the more likely it is that you will use the correct form and technique next time without even thinking about it.
One of the issues I have with many instructional videos on sharpening is that they focus way too much on how fast their particular technique is. So students think doing it right will be really fast. This is very misleading. If their technique is actually fast it is only because they have taken the time to develop their technique to the point that there is no wasted effort. Nor are they exhausting themselves fixing mistaken bevel angles and the like. The best thing we can do for up and coming woodworkers in my opinion is to encourage them to practice well. Practicing well is every bit as important as practicing often. Speed will develop naturally as they do it correctly over and over and over.
Intentionally building technique
I have added several exercises to my woodworking life in order to develop my skills, though I am by no means new to woodworking. One is using salvage wood to develop my hand tool technique. Since most of this wood is pine it is both good exercise and good practice. With the added bonus of getting some nice wood to work with when you are done.
With my sharpening I have also had to learn discipline. I am usually in such a hurry to restore an edge that I tend to cheat and “lean into” the bevel a bit more than I should. This works once or twice but before long you have a real mess to clean up because your bevel has become too steep. Or if you are a micro bevel sort of guy your micro bevel easily becomes anything but micro. Now you have to spend a bunch of time correcting the problems you caused by being in too much of hurry. Net result? Bad habits and a net gain of no time.
To sum up:
When doing hand tool tasks that require touch, NEVER use bad technique. It will become a habit.
Intentionally find ways to develop your technique in your off time, so that you do not have to struggle with it when you are working.
Building a small frame saw
I have a great rip saw. It is an old Disston that has been re-sharpened almost out of existence. But it has the cool tote with the hole for my index finger, it feels good in my hands and cuts like crazy. However, there are jobs that are better done with other types of saws. I had seen these big frame saws on the internet and I thought they looked pretty handy for resawing and since I do not have a bandsaw I thought I would try building a small one. I have 3 blades that were designed for conventional frame (bow) saws that are about 24″ long so I thought I would start with building a frame saw to fit one of those. My thought is that if is works well I may get a kit from Blackburn tools and build a bigger one someday.
Since this was a bit of an experiment I just used a bit of reclaimed pine. So step one was squaring up the stock. A frame saw is a really simple object held together entirely by the tension on the blade. The main challenge is doing your joinery very accurately so that the frame stays straight and square under tension. So it is very important to have straight square and dry stock to start with.
The bones of this project is made up of just four pieces of wood connected by four mortise and tenon joints. I would recommend doing all the joinery while the pieces are still square. This helps a ton while trying to cut the mortises and tenons.
The biggest trick in making this saw was developing a system of holding the blade straight without making changing the blade a complete pain. I finally settled on a very simple system of blocks and a pair of L shaped bolts to tighten the blade and pull the whole assembly together.
Once these blocks were fitted it was a simple matter of shaping the side rails with some simple chamfers and rounding over the handles.
The biggest challenge it turned out was learning to use this saw accurately. It is a very different prospect ripping with a frame saw when you are used to a conventional western rip saw. But with a bit of trial and error and a some practice this is now my favorite way to resaw stock that is 3″ – 6″ wide.
My work bench turns 30
I don’t have a Roubo bench or a Nicholson bench. But I do Have two benches that have been with me for a long time. They have both undergone changes over the years, both cost me next to nothing to build, and they are both better now than ever. So I thought I would give a quick tour of them and discuss what I have found to be the most useful features in a workbench over the last 30 years.
The way they were…
My current benches go way back to 1985/6. I don’t have a any digital pictures of them back then but I dug up a few to show a bit of the evolution these two benches have gone through. The picture at the left shows the configuration of my main bench when I built it. Originally it was nothing but a slab of 1 1/8″ plywood(salvaged from a office furniture makers scrap heap) laminated together to a thickness of 2 1/4″. The legs were made of the same material and the whole thing was held together with threaded rod and lag screws. It had some holes in the top and some trays under it and that is the way it remained until about 2012. That may not seem like a very useful bench but my concept for many years for a work bench was as a platform to which I could attach various jigs and fixtures. I built both of these benches in the mid-eighties when I was very interested(to put it mildly) in building musical instruments. And they performed very well as a platform for my various work holding jigs.
I had a full assortment of fairly elaborate fixtures that I would attach to these benches. Which meant that I did not want to commit to anything in a bench design except that it be sturdy, the right height, and that it be easy to attach my assortment of fixtures and vises. It was not until I fully embraced traditional hand tool woodworking that I started to feel like my benches needed an upgrade. As I got into more and more traditional hand tool woodworking and became involved in more furniture and tool projects (as opposed to instrument making and boat building) I started to really feel the need for a more conventional hand tool bench.
The Bench upgrade of 2012
By now it was 2012 and I was closing in on the end of my cedar strip canoe project. I started to think it was time to upgrade.
For example in the old days I used pipe clamps to power various vise-like fixtures on my bench. I had a pipe clamp powered end vise, and also a pipe clamp 30″ moxon style vise along the long edge of my bench. I say Moxon because that is what people call them now, but this was several years before Moxon vises or Moxon for that matter really entered the common woodworking vernacular. I simply needed a long vise to hold my case sides while I dovetailed them. If I had only known what a ground breaking (re)inventor I was, maybe I could be as famous as Chris Schwarz! (sort of doubt it 😉 So I began by purchasing a decent vise screw from Lee Valley Tools, turning my cowboy pipe clamp end vise into a more proper end vise. I also added a planing stop to the other end of my bench and bought a couple holdfasts from Gramercy Tools. If you have not tried a pair of these yet, leave this post and order them now, you will not be sorry.
The Planing Rail and Tool Trays
The last major improvement was to add two more legs, a planing rail, and a quasi-Nicholson styled skirt on the far side of my bench. This added a lot of weight, more width, and just generally made my bench a more solid and useful platform for all around work. Without the need to constantly change jigs and fixtures.
The planing rail is as simple as can be, just a 2 1/4″ thick by 6″ wide slab of plywood like the rest of the bench supported by a 2 1/4″ thick side skirt with holdfast holes. The really neat part is the sliding tool trays, these were designed by necessity not genius, but I have to say after using them for a few years, I would never build a bench without them now. The ability to slide them around and even quickly remove them is wonderful, it allows for easy clamping around the perimeter of the main benchtop, easy removal to prevent them from filling with chips, and finally easy cleaning. I love them.
The last decision I made that I am still quite happy about is the overhang on the end of the bench. This is handy so often that it is another one of those features I would not want to be without.
In fact when I think of an eventual replacement for this bench I think I would like to build in two overhangs in different widths to accommodate various sized work holding scenarios. A wide overhang and a narrow one and then the ability to use both together for even larger things.
I have also toyed around with a shoulder vise in place of my oversized birdsmouth, but I am still on the fence with that one. It turns out when I have a lot of planing to do the speed with which I can insert, remove, check for square and reinsert material in this system is really impressive. I am quite sure that for most jobs a shoulder vise would actually slow me down.
My “Other” bench
My other bench is a sort of stepped affair that most likely does not make much sense without a bit of explanation. It has two surfaces the main one is 30 inches high and the smaller one is 38 inches high. And was built entirely from an old industrial solid core door. The step design was used to accommodate molds for instruments when I was building musical instruments in the 80’s. The mold would attach to the small elevated surface and could be pivoted around 360 degrees. The lower surface would hold my tools and give me a place to work on various components of the instrument without leaving the vicinity of the mold. It worked great. Later on though it became my “fixit” bench with the smaller higher surface used for detail work that I wanted to hold a bit closer to the tip of my nose.
Lately though I am using it almost exclusively as a sharpening bench. The two heights are often quite handy for various sharpening tasks. The post vise usually just holds my strop these days.
I bought this plane about 6 years ago at a flea market for 3 dollars. The sole was completely useless so I immediately put a new maple and purpleheart sole on it. The back tote was broken but tight so I did not worry about it at the time. With the age-old excuse that I will get to that soon.
I guess soon in my world turned out to be 6 years of hard use. But recently that broken tote finally got the better of me, and I replaced it with a nice piece of slightly flamed maple scrap and I think it turned out so well I can’t believe I waited this long to finally fix it.
While I was at it I enlarged the tote slightly since the original was weirdly small compared to other stanleys that I own. But since there was only so much room under the lateral adjuster I had to alter the profile a bit lifting up the angle of the horn and making it a bit beefier at the same time. This changed the “hang” of the tool a bit but after using it a while I think it is a change for the better. Now this workhorse is even sweeter to use. This plane tends to be the first one I grab for rough work. It is a wonderful jack plane. I do not have anywhere near the 8″ camber on it that some guys recommend. Mine is set up with a 15 – 20 inch camber which to my mind makes this plane useful for many more tasks than just hogging off wood. But still allows me to really get some work done when I let it off of it’s chain.
Now all I have to do is put on a new front tote to match… but I am not holding my breath.
Could just be another 6 years. After all, the front tote is not even broken 😉
Building the Melencolia plane
My next project (I hope).
Like many woodworkers I have been fascinated by Durer’s “Melencolia I” woodcut. It is filled with amazing details and more than a few sweet tools.
I have already made a couple of “Melencolia Squares” and have even had a wack at reproducing the batten in the lower right corner. But the gem of the collection is still taunting me, and that is the amazing plane at the angel’s feet. I have looked at this for a while now and even found some examples of attempted reproductions of it on the internet. But looking at it is not really what I need as a builder, I have to make one of these things. Not just for curiosity, or some fixation on old tools (although I am afflicted with both of those things). No, I want to make this plane because I have a sneaky suspicion that this would be a really nice plane to use if built and tuned properly.
Looking at this plane in high resolution I noticed it has some really nice features. Here are a few of the niceties that jumped out to me.
It has a nice open throat for clearing chips. And unlike most wooden planes it has a pleasing rounded shape to the front of the throat which is just perfect for reaching in with your finger to clear the throat.
It has an awesome front tote. All my hand built planes to date have been tote-less(except for my rebuild of a stanley #26) and I think I am ready for the additional challenges this plane provides.
The wedge is also quite decorative(the picture makes it look like a cross between a barn owl’s face and Eddie Munsters hair), however it looks very functional as well when you examine the details, so I do not think this is simply an artist’s imagination at work. I am particularly interested in the business end of the wedge. It looks as if it has a cove running down to the sharp edge. Nevertheless I think shaping and fitting this wedge is going to be the most challenging part of this build. Instead of a simple wedge this is a sort of compound wedge(if it is proper to use such a phrase). If done exactly as shown it would require changing the angle of the shoulder of the journal that the wedge runs in to get a proper fit. I need to consider whether I will exactly match this wedge or cheat a bit by keeping the outer edges of the wedge square with the edges of the wedge. But either way I think this will be a real corker to execute well. My first thought is to cut a wedge with a higher angle, and then plane each side down to the final angle that I will layout on each side of the wedge blank. Then finally rounding the top and chamfering as shown. We shall see.
Finally, I just like the looks of it. I think that shape would feel good in the hands. I am also going to make it on the large side of what the scale of this image allows. I am going for 10″ – 12″ in length and 2.5″ – 3″ overall width.
Other Melencolia tools
I first heard of the “Melencolia Square” from Chris Schwarz’s blog. I have included a link to it here. He also gives free plans here. While I like the way they turned out(sort of a lovechild between a square and a french curve) I do want to make a couple more just to refine the form a bit. I mostly want to increase the width a bit to give me more reference area on the edge. I do not totally want to loose the narrow length to width ratio of the form though. I think it is one of it’s unique features as opposed to more modern forms of layout tools.
I have also made a batten like the one shown in this illustration for securing things to my benchtop. However as I look at this image more and more I wonder if this really was not intended to be used more as a straight edge than as a batten. As a batten it’s narrow cross section does not give as much surface “grip” as a more conventional “doe’s foot” does. So I am thinking straight edge. But that is a matter of highly debatable interpretation. Some people really try to read a lot of things into the “real meaning” of this piece. I just like the tools.
Anyway, hope you enjoy the pic’s! When I get back to my shop I have a long list of “next” things to do. Looks like my list just increased by one.
Oh, Strop it!
And really enjoy your chisels
Every once in a while I discover something, purely by chance, that is so obvious that I absolutely can not believe I never saw it before. Recently I had just such an epiphany through simple laziness.
I have used several systems of sharpening over the 40+ years I have been involved with woodworking. Most of them I must confess were not very good. But that was before the internet so I had to figure a lot of things out for myself. And the sharpening method I grew up with was just a two sided India stone, not the greatest to be sure. I moved to soft Arkansas stones after that and following that I used the sandpaper method for many years. I actually got pretty darn good with sand paper. Eventually however, I got sick of constantly changing paper and went with water stones. This is when I finally fell in love with the lowly strop. Don’t ask me why it took so long, strops have been around for a long time. But even after I started regularly using a strop it took a long time before I discovered the obvious.
The whole point of this article is this, never put your strop away. And never have it get more than 10 feet away from you. I discovered this simple truth by accident one day when through pure slovenliness I left my strop in my post vice after a sharpening session, just behind where I do most of my hand work. I was making a chest that required more than a dozen mortice and tenon joints and as I worked I noticed a slight degradation in the performance of my chisel. I saw my strop there and said, hey maybe I don’t need to sharpen maybe I can get by with a simple stropping. That is when the light bulb flickered on. Not only did that work once, it worked over and over again. I cut all of those mortises and trimmed all the tenons with the same chisel. Every time I paused to think, I just turned around and ran it on the strop a few times. When I was done cutting all those mortises and trimming all those tenons, I tested the edge on that chisel with the same tests I use whenever I finish a sharpening on my stones and it passed with flying colors. I have not taken that strop out of that vice since. Unless of course I need a post vise, but I promptly return the strop when I am finished. That vise is the new home for my strop.
Now I have heard it said that excessive stropping can round the bevel etc, etc. This is no doubt true, but my question is, so what? After all, the goal is working wood right? And I have not found this rounding problem to be a very serious one. In fact when I finally do need to sharpen the chisel on the stones, I do not find that it takes an inordinate amount of time or effort to restore the edge. Now granted, this opens up a wider question regarding sharpening technique. Personally I use no guides, I do everything by hand and feel. Sure over time, (a long time) my bevel angles creep up to the point that I have to regrind them on the wheel. But who doesn’t regrind occasionally? So I think all these “problems” are academic and basically not worth worrying about. For me I just want a chisel that really cuts so I can get back to work. And slogging my way up through three grits of stones and then maybe a strop or whatever seems like overkill to me now. I can get back to work in less than a minute on the strop with no water or mess. And not just get back to work, but I will be working with an absolute razor edge.
The upshot? Less mess, less effort, and I never work with an even slightly dull chisel anymore. One last thing, this system does not really work on planes. In my experience by the time you take a plane apart you may as well fully sharpen it since it is a bit of a pain to reset the chip breaker, realign the lateral adjustment and so forth. You don’t really gain much time with the strop since the actual sharpening is only about half the struggle with a plane.
Hope this helps!
It takes 100 years to grow a tree
Recently I was talking to a young former student of mine and she asked me about my pinterest habits since she follows me. For example why I like tiny houses, old cabins, old furniture, and handmade things (particularly tools). My answer to all these questions I realized was pretty connected to a philosophy that is really not in vogue right now.
I told her I had no love for “decorators” that changed all the furniture in their house like I change my shirt. Because, it turns every piece of furniture into a throw away piece. And it takes 100 years to grow a tree worthy of furniture building. So it follows you should only use something that difficult to replace for things designed to last at least 100 years. So I like old furniture and old houses, and things built to last for generations. I respect things that were done by hand with an eye to the future. I respect designs that have proven themselves for at least 100 years. Because a design that has been around that long and still looks good is to my mind a very good working definition of the term “good design”.
Current consumerism has no place for anything long term. In current thought few people generally consider repair as on option, just replacement. This in turn makes low price, surface appearance, and “trendiness” the only meaningful metrics for most purchases today. I went on to explain to her that people who wish to replace all their furniture regularly should by all means shop at Walmart or some other place where cheap “furniture” made of glorified cardboard designed to last no more than a few years is sold. Those who wish to own real furniture made from old trees by skilled workers, need to think in terms of generations, or at the very least in terms of resale to someone else who respects quality materials and workmanship.
I was surprised at the response to my admittedly snarky old man rant. She just looked at me a bit stunned and said, “I have never thought of any of that before”. We live in an age where people are so removed from the sweat and process of life that they never seem to even consider what is involved with the creation and existence of everything from the chair they are sitting on to the food they are eating while doing so. To them everything comes from the store. It’s magic, I guess. I suspect if they saw what went into the manufacture of even cheap junk furniture they would never sit quite as casually again.
What’s a guy to do
I walked away from that conversation disturbed. I thought as a teacher I have influence, but rarely do I get the chance (or more accurately take the chance) to try and help a generation that literally does not know what it does not know. Obviously I do this when teaching the subject at hand. But I think there is a need to talk about the things people rarely even think about. I left wondering if there was a way to restore the appreciation of quality, of workmanship, and of longevity that has been lost to consumerism.
This seems to be a generation on a treadmill running as fast as they can to get whatever the current crop of marketers tell them they need, only to throw it all away a short time later and continue their chase to the next big thing. We buy phones and computers nearly impossible to take apart because they are not expected to last any longer than their batteries. These items are as much status symbols and fashion accessories as communication devices or tools.
This attitude has worked it’s way all the way through our culture and has trained people that nothing should be expected to last for very long. Even if it still works it soon will be hopelessly out of style and therefore “useless”. Form over function, style over quality, the neverending quest for acceptance and validation from a culture with no anchor and no compass.
I think for those of us that do appreciate handwork and creativity. Those that can look at a nice piece of lumber and understand how very long it took to produce such wonderful material, to appreciate just the material itself prior to it becoming anything else by the work of human hands. For us, I think there is a responsibility to help others learn to value the attributes that constitute true quality and value.
How? One by one I suspect.
I have recently been reading The Teachers Hand-book of Sloyd by Otto Soloman and while I could not find the exact right quote for this article, the whole gist of the sloyd concept is the training of the whole person through systematic instruction in the manual arts. That by working with their hands they would learn not only manual skills, but more importantly it would build character and give the student appreciation for the importance of precision and quality. In addition to the development of a host of other difficult to measure but important character attributes and skills. All of which contribute to their composite worldview.
I can’t help thinking that the elimination of manual skill training in our schools and our culture’s general attitude toward those that do manual labor for a living have seriously robbed the young in particular of any deep appreciation of art, craft, and hard work.
My schedule is as full as anyone else’s I suppose, but I have been feeling quite often of late that I should probably teach a Sloyd-like class on woodworking. Not a masters class of any sort, but a woodworking class that is as focused on developing the person as it is on developing that persons woodworking skills. As I have studied and thought about this project I have begun to realize just how challenging this may be. But in the end I believe it will be well worth the effort.
I will try to keep you posted as this idea matures.
Building a plane to match my plow plane
Recently I built a fixed fence style plow plane that cuts a 1/4″ groove 1/4″ from the edge of the material. I did this to avoid building a good movable fence which very likely would have been more work than building the rest of the plane. I realized as I thought about it, that most of the work I wanted to do could easily be done with a plane with a fixed fence so why bother with all the added complexity.
Once I used this plane a few times though I started thinking about how nice it would be to have a matched plane that would cut a tongue so that I could have a dedicated tongue and groove plane set.
I had some leftover steel from an old Stanley blade so I decided to give it a try. Immediately I discovered that I had to make some choices. The most common configuration I have seen by far for a plane like this is to use a single blade with a gap cut in the blade for the tongue and then some kind of depth stop.
Generally, when you are building a tool that has been around for a long time you are working at your own risk to go against convention. There is usually a very good reason that the old tools were built the way they were. However, I was not convinced that I could get a perfect match between the two and once a tool like this is built it is very hard to adjust it. So I made a departure from tradition and essentially made two planes that were bolted together with a spacer between that could be easily adjusted to make various widths of tongues. This way if the tongues were a bit too tight or too loose I could adjust that easily by adjusting the thickness of the center shim.
This did mean however that there were two separate blades in this plane and adjusting the depth of cut would be a bit more of a challenge. Time will tell if this is a good idea or not. I may write a follow up to this story after I have used this plane a while to report on how this experiment works in everyday shop use.
On to the build
I started by making a rough sketch of this plane, since this plane had far more parts than a usual Krenov style plane I wanted to make sure I did not confuse the many pieces at some point and ruin any of my work.
I began this build like I did the last plane I built – with the blade. Once again I just used what I had on hand, in this case I cut two strips from an old Stanley iron with a cut-off wheel on my Dremel. I find this to be the cleanest and most accurate way to cut tool steel.
After that it just took a few minutes for each blade to clean and straighten them up a bit on the bench grinder and I was ready to build my plane. I always start with the blade because I find it easiest to match my wooden parts to the blade. And worst case scenario, I can always grind the blade slightly later if needed during the final fettling. Making blades our of old stanley blades is not ideal. Ideally the blades should be much thicker. But this is my third plane made with thin blades like this and my first two worked surprisingly well so I have no reason to think that this plane will not.
Making the body starts with cutting and thicknessing the various pieces. The thickness is determined by the blades we just made and the thickness of the groove the matching plane cuts. Once done we are ready to start construction.
I decided early on that the easiest way to build this plane would be to build two planes and then find a way to accurately clamp them together around a shim that is exactly the thickness of the groove that my plow plane cuts. Since this is a wooden plane and subject to wear and weather I felt that this design although not as good looking would be longer lasting and easier to tune up later. So overall I did what I usually do which is – to favor function over form.
Step one is cutting the bed pieces for the blades. I choose 48 degrees for the bed and 58 degrees for the wedge, leaving me with a 10 degree wedge. This angle is the one I obsess about the most. Too low of angle on the wedge and it will wedge so tight it is near impossible to remove especially on a plane with light, small irons. Too high of an angle however, and obviously it will not hold the blade tight during use. I have tested this angle a bit and it seems to hold, but comparing it to historical examples I do not think it would be wise to try anything much steeper than 10 degrees. I also cut my wedges a bit narrower in width than the opening, because I have found on my other planes with small narrow irons that it is often easier to loosen the wedge by moving it back and forth in the slot than by the usual smack it with a mallet method. The blades do not seem to have enough mass to shake everything loose on their own.
One final note on this. I plane the wedges to a taper so that they fit very well down near the mouth, but have even side to side play at the top to allow me to loosen them up for sharpening and adjustment.
Glue up is the really important part, I usually cut all my pieces just a bit oversize to allow me to glue up with my wedges in place this saves a lot of hassle later. Truing up the edges with a plane after glue-up is far easier than trying to fit the wedge later by trial and error. So as you can see I glue up with the wedges and blades in place.
Also, do not use any more glue than necessary because too much glue will cause the pieces to swim all over the place making it harder to precisely position them. It will also cause an annoying amount of squeeze out. I find a thin coat on both pieces is the best for this kind of work, rather than my usual thicker coat on one piece and rubbing them together.
Assembly and fettling
Now it is time to begin the challenging part. Getting all these pieces to work together. As I mentioned earlier I built this plane essentially as two planes. One that ejects it chips to the right and one that ejects it’s chips to the left. Between these two planes I am clamping a shim that is the thickness of the tongue that I want to leave in my work. This shim also serves as a depth stop that will bottom out when the tongue is high enough.
This looks like it might be difficult but this is really one of the easiest steps in building a plane like this. You drill a hole with a forstner bit to begin then egg it out with a combination of chisels, gouges, and rasps.
That took me to the point at the right. Now it is time to think about alignment as I finish this project. I started with the center shim and planed it to what I thought would be the final thickness. Then I cut two brass pins 3/32″ in diameter. The diameter does not really matter as long as they are not too thin. I then drill the center shim to receive these pins, making sure they were perfectly square and fit very tight in the holes.
With this done I used the center shim to gauge exactly where the holes in the two planes should fall. Once I was sure of the position I tapped on the pins leaving marks exactly where they needed to be and since the pins were relatively small they penetrated far enough that they served to guide the drill bit.
Now the plane could be assembled and disassembled at will without ruining the alignment. This turned out to be very important because fettling this plane turned out to be a real challenge.
Bolting it all together with large stainless steel machine screws was next. I chose square nuts mostly because the hardware store had some nice looking ones, and as an added bonus square nuts are really easy to let into the wood. I just needed a few taps with a 3/8″ chisel to turn a 3/8″ hole into a 3/8″ square and I was done.
I was pretty excited at this point but in fact I still had a couple of hours of fettling to go before I could honestly say that this plane was a match to my other plane. In the end I needed to add a few sheets of paper to my shim in order to get the fit I wanted between the tongue and the groove my other plane cuts. As big a pain as this plane was to build with two blades and all, I think I am still glad I went this direction. As both planes are wooden planes I expect wear over time, and at that point the complexity that drove me nuts building this plane will become an advantage making future repairs and adjustments relatively easy.
What I learned
Making a plane that works is easy.
Making a plane that works well is harder.
Making a plane that works well and looks great is harder still.
Making two planes that look good, work well, and match each other exactly – CRAZY HARD.
But I had fun, and they both work now. Not sure about the looks though.
Faux Follansbee chest in reclaimed lumber
When you don’t have nice fresh Oak…
I have admired Peter Follansbee’s coffer chests since the first time I saw one on the WoodWrights shop. I grew up where there was a lot of Oak so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for anything Oak. However for the last 25 years I have lived in a place where quality Oak is both hard to find and expensive and finding an actual tree to fell is impossible. So what to do.
I have always been shall we say… underfunded with my woodworking so I have always planned my projects around whatever wood was available. And nothing is more easily available generally speaking than salvage lumber. My latest excursion to the dumpster yielded a bunch of 2×4’s that had been taken out of a 50 year old building that was being remodelled. I have written before that salvaging old wood by hand gives me a good workout and generally some decent wood. That left me with a pile of clean but not consistently dimensioned salvage lumber that I needed a project for.
I had two choices either continue to work on this wood until it was all of a consistent dimension or just keep letting the pile grow and use it however it came off the plane. That is when I remembered watching Peter build one of these chests on the Woodwright’s Shop. He only worried about the outside of the chest, inside the wood was crudely dimensioned and not even square. This is when it dawned on me that I could substitute salvaged pine for riven oak, weird thought but it sounded fun so there you are.
My wife likes to knit so I thought, I have not made anything for her for a long time, maybe this could be a chest to hold her knitting. Any excuse to build something fun is good enough for me. (Plus she really does like it. Win, Win.) The dimensions did not really matter as long as it was not too big to sit next to her knitting chair. So the dimensions were a combination of assessing the use case and gauging the size of the pieces I was able to get from some truly awful looking 2×4’s.
It all started with this pile of fugitives from the burn pile. As you can see there is a lot of work here before you can get clear usable sized pieces of pine from this. But on the up side much of this wood is pretty old and was sawn from bigger and more slowly grown trees than construction lumber is today. So although there is probably 50 to 75 percent waste here it was 100 percent waste when I started and I get a good feeling out of taking something that was to be burned and making it into something that could potentially last for generations.
After pulling a lot of nails and trimming mangled ends I started the process of trimming the pieces into the longest clear sections that I could get. I don’t generally bother with pieces less than 18″ long. Once that was done it was off to the planing bench for a good old fashioned hand tool workout.
When I first started doing this it took a fairly long time to reduce wood like this to usable straight square stock but it is amazing what just plain old practice can do. At this point I can size up a piece by eye, flatten it on one side, then work my way around the piece at a really good clip. I do not believe it takes me much longer than it would by machine. Especially if there is any twist or bow in it, unless you have a truly huge jointer and really know how to use it, I think hand tools can take the weirdness out of a board better and faster than machines. Plus if you do happen to hit a nail it is cheaper, faster, and easier to re-sharpen a handplane than any power tool I have ever used.
That took me to this point, a bench full of clear pine waiting to be put to use. For the sake of full disclosure I did use a table saw to resaw the wood you see here to 5/8″. I am not enough of a hand tool freak to do that much resawing by hand. But all the planing and joinery were done by hand on this one.
As you can see in the background the carcase had already begun to take shape at this point. Most of the wood you see here was destined to become panels for the sides. I bookmatched the pieces since I got 2 pieces from each of my salvaged 2×4’s which gave me good looking pieces roughly 5″ – 6 1/2″ in width and 5/8″ thick. From these I was able to put together all the panels for the project.
One last point I think should be mentioned is nail holes. I do nothing with nail holes except to arrange them so that they fall in a non-symmetrical way as much as possible. If you do this right it actually looks better to me than if you try to cover them up or pretend they are not there. It tends to look like wormholes or pin knots if you do it right and I like that in this style of furniture. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I think it is more honest looking than faux antique reproductions with artificial distressing and so on. These are honest holes that tell you this wood has been places and done things. I will let you be the judge in the final pictures of this project.
As you can see there is nothing really difficult about this little chest just simple mortise and tenon construction. Be careful to do all your marking and measuring from the face sides letting the internal surfaces meet in whatever way they do. This is “no ruler” kind of work for the most part where each piece is fit into place individually so the fact that the legs are not the exact same thickness as the rails does not really matter at all. The chest is square and smooth on the outside. The inside has a nice one-off hand built look to it. Especially when you add the panels that have been tapered on the inside as Peter explains to Roy in the show. This makes the chest very interesting looking on the inside and very definitely hand made. No one will mistake this for Ikea furniture or some such thing.
Once construction was complete I just had to pin all the joints to make sure this thing never comes apart. On the next chest I think I will draw pin it, but for this one I simply glued and clamped it, then pinned the final joint. I don’t think it will make a huge difference in overall strength or longevity.
The lid was also a very straightforward process. Again it is just mortise and tenon construction with a panel. I cut all the grooves with my recently built plow plane and it worked really well.
I plan on using my usual oil finish on this because I find that it is a really good finish for pine, it darkens with age and gives a nice patina to projects of this sort which really adds to the charm of building with salvaged lumber.
Once again I needed a tool and decided to build it rather than buy it or use the power tool equivalent. I have done this before with a molding plane. This weekend that tool was a 1/4″ plow plane patterned after the groove cutting half of a tongue a groove matched set.
Originally I was going to put on an adjustable fence and a depth stop. But as the build went on I realized that the vast majority of grooves I need to cut are 1/4″ wide and 3/8″ deep and 1/4″ away from the edge of the work. So I built this “one trick pony” of a plow plane. And so far I like it.
Also, I have realized that making this type of plane is not really hard at all. In fact I really like building them. This one took about 3 hours all told. It is made with a slice off of an old stanley plane blade. I cut a 1/4″ strip off of it with a dremel cutting wheel. Then I cleaned it up on the bench grinder. Once I had the blade I built the plane around it.
Step one is cutting the parts.
This is a Krenov style plane but instead of 3 parts, this one needs four.
A solid 1/2″ thick piece for the far side of the plane I used soft maple.
A 1/4″ piece cut in 2 pieces at a 47 degree angle. Cut the other face about 6 degrees steeper.
Cut a wedge that matches the V between the two pieces that you just cut as in the picture on the left.
Then cut a 1/4″ piece that will be the spacer between the plow and the fence.
Then cut a 1/2″ piece that is wider than the others by 3/4″ or so for the fence.
The only real trick to gluing up this plane is gluing up the first two pieces. As you can see from the picture on the right I glued up the first two pieces with the wedge and blade in place. If you have cut all of your pieces slightly over-size then it can save you a lot of headache to glue up with your wedge and blade in place and perfectly mated. Even if that means that the two angle cut pieces are slightly out of align with the solid piece. You can correct this in a couple of seconds with a plane after the glue dries. Doing it this way is far faster than gluing up and trying to do the final fitting of the wedge later.
Before you glue up the rest you will want to bore the chip ejection hole as shown in the picture on the left. Notice that the drill cuts into the wedge as well. This will also be very helpful later. All you have to do is cut the wedge blank just below the cutout from the drill.
Now is the time to flip this assembly over and shape the chip ejector chute on the far side of the plane. A combination of chisels, a round rasp, and a half round file should get you most of the way there. If you look closely at the finished picture you will notice that I cut through the web near the throat and opened that area up a bit. This will help the chips to pass through the throat much better.
Cut through the web at the same angle as the bed of the blade. But make sure to stay away from the bed by the thickness of the blade. This is not as difficult as it sounds, and if you do it right it will create a clear path for the chips to begin their journey up into the ejection chute and off to the side.
The more you do at this stage the easier it is so it is worth the time to get this ejection chute as close to perfect as possible at this stage.
Once this is done you are ready to glue up the other two pieces. I would do this one at a time though, squaring up with a plane after each glue up.
That will take you to the point at the left. You will notice that I do not have the webbing cut near the throat. When I tested this plane I found out it did nothing but choke that is how I came to the conclusion that I needed to modify the throat. I did this by carefully sawing through the webbing as described earlier. It was much more difficult to do this at this stage of construction which is why I mentioned it in an earlier step.
At this point it is really complete except for the final shaping and adjustments. I chose to go with a very simple rounded block style but if you are feeling more creative the sky’s the limit at this point. Knock yourself out if you like.
Tips for building a plane like this
Use the thickest blade you can find. I used a slice of an old stanley blade because that is what I had laying around on the day I made this plane. If you are not building from salvage go thick.
Make sure you reduce the thickness of the skate slightly. It will make it run in the groove much, much easier.
Use a thicker wedge than the one I used here. This works but I don’t like it. I made that decision on the fly and it was not my best decision.
I am still debating my decision on not making an adjustable fence. Don’t be surprised if I write another article about how I retrofitted this plane with an adjustable fence. It is more likely though that I will make a mate for this plane and have a dedicated tongue and groove matched set.
Building a dollhouse
Building the perfect doll house
Growing up as a boy with only one sister I can’t say that I have ever spent much time thinking about doll houses. However, having a young granddaughter can change all that that in a hurry. One look at her and I was ready for my crash course in the world of dolls.
When I first thought about making a doll house I thought it would be something akin to building an overly fancy birdhouse. Well, sort of. I had no idea for example that I first had to decide what scale of doll I was building a house for. Turns out there is a bewildering amount of choices there. I opted for the small GI Joe sized dolls because I did not want to build this thing to be the size of a small lawnmower shed. And I wanted a bunch of rooms in it to make it more interesting.
Once I had those decisions made I had to build a skeleton on which to build the house. I wanted 3 floors but I also wanted to make it possible to paint and remodel the house later. So I built the framework at the left which allowed me to put the second floor in a groove. This would allow them to slide out making the walls and the rooms much easier to repaint.
I also built the stairway and fireplace at this stage since it was much easier to make that a permanent structure instead of a removable feature. The backplate is MDF and generally not my favorite building material, but for this purpose I liked its smoothness and flatness so I put up with the extra weight. Most of the rest of this project was built with a combination of 1/4″ mahogany ply and 1/8″ birch doorskins. This was much easier and stronger than trying to use solid wood cut thin.
I built the third floor and glued that in place completing the main structure of the house. The second floor was then built as a unit and slid into the groove I had built into the sides to receive it. This was not glued in so that this floor could be removed later to facilitate repainting or repairs. Some parts do have to be painted before assembly though since it would be insanely difficult later. So you will notice the white paint in the upstairs hallway. You might also notice the lip on the front of the second floor. I used oak for this for it’s strength since this is really the only thing supporting the long edge of the second floor.
From the picture at the left you can see the second floor fully slid into place and how it aligns with the staircase/fireplace combo on the main floor. The interior trim is mostly 1/8″ birch doorskin material. The core of the house was basically done at this point and I was ready to start thinking about the roof.
As you can see I just used 1/4″ ply for the roof. I reinforce the peaks and valleys with heavy paper since the joinery was not the strongest and I did not want any clunky looking blocking in those joints especially in the valley of the roof. Once that was done I was ready to put on the roofing. I used 50 grit emery cloth for roofing material it seems to have about the right look and feel for simulating a shingled roof. I thought about about putting a cedar shake roof on this house. But all those tiny shakes made my head hurt and I wanted to finish this house before she was too old to enjoy it. I think it turned out pretty good.
Next up I had to cut a ton of clapboards for the siding and glue them all on. I don’t generally like hot glue but for this application is was far and away the best choice for attaching the siding. This was very fiddly work but was also quite relaxing once I got going on it. I used an oil finish on the siding because I thought it was a nice contrast to the paint on the inside. And it was much more forgiving than paint on all those tiny surfaces. I am not really a model maker so doing all this stuff in miniature was really a challenge for me.
Once I was done with the siding I mounted the whole thing on a base and even gave the house a sidewalk and a bit of a yard.
I was pretty happy with it and so was my granddaughter. All that was left now was to buy some furniture and dolls for it that were of the right scale. I chose the smaller scale dolls because doing something like this for Barbie scale dolls would have been enormous and I think would have very quickly become tiresome.
All in all one of my most satisfying projects, the look in my granddaughters eyes made it all worthwhile.
A few more images from the project
Home brewed oil finishes
One of the first finishes I ever put on a project, now over 40 years ago was a boiled linseed oil finish. It was simple and cheap and there was no way to mess it up really. It was not long though before I read somewhere that you could make an even better oil finish if you mixed it with equal parts of turpentine and spar varnish. Once I started using it I was hooked. Now over 40 years later I am still using this finish (although with some modifications) and I still think it is one of the best finishes out there. So after finishing my last project this way I thought I would write an article detailing how best to use this finish.
The finish I used on the table at the left is a modified form of the finish I used 40 years ago. Instead of equal parts Spar varnish, Turpentine, and Boiled linseed oil. I now often use a finish I call 221. In other words 2 parts Spar, 2 parts Turpentine, and 1 part Boiled linseed oil. This modification is very nice because it is very thin and penetrates very well. In addition it has proportionately more varnish in it than the even parts mixture. It seems to dry just a bit faster as well. Although, if you are in a big hurry this is really not the finish for you. You can probably put on 1 coat a day under the right conditions. And you will need a minimum of three coats. Four or five is actually a much better number. The table at the left has four coats on it for example.
Now one of the supposed downfalls of oil finishes is that they do not provide as much protection as a thicker film coating of some kind like varnish, or lacquer, or even epoxy if you really want tough. But this is the second table I have made like this. The first one is used as an everyday table for dining or playing games. Glasses of water and coffee and various dishes are set on it as you would any table and this finish is holding up very well. It is after all a spar varnish which is a very tough varnish. I have a countertop covered with spar varnish that has been holding up to extreme use for many years and is still essentially unbent.
But setting aside the practical considerations for a second the real reason I use this finish is the way it looks and feels when you are done. It is wonderful. I want people’s first impression to be, “Oh, what pretty wood” not “Oh what a shiny finish”. And this finish gives me exactly that effect. Plus I can apply this in my shop with no special precautions, no obsessing about dust or insects, I just put it on, turn off the lights, and check it out in the morning.
Applying the finish
If there is a “trick” to applying this finish it is in the surface preparation. While this is a very forgiving finish the final result will vary widely depending on the quality of the initial surface. For the table above my goal was to use no sandpaper. While I did not quite meet that goal I came really close. The main thing I used sandpaper for was to take the razor sharp edges off the legs and rails that my planes left behind. The rest was finished just as it came off the plane.
But you do want as perfect a surface as you can manage. You either want to use very sharp edge tools to get a burnished type surface or sand down to at least 400 grit, 600 really would be better. Then the fun can begin.
The first and the last coat are the most important coats. Leave plenty of time to apply the first coat. I use a cheap chip brush and soak the whole piece down and I keep it wet for as long as I can stand it, or until is starts to drag on my brush. This is important because for this to be a tough finish it needs to penetrate as deeply as possible. When you feel that you have let it soak long enough. Wipe it down with a paper towel. Don’t worry about getting every last bit of surface oil off, not yet at least. Once you have wiped the excess off let is stand for 30 minutes or even an hour or two. Then with a clean paper towel or a cloth wipe it down hard and get all the excess off. Now let it dry for AT LEAST 24 hours. 48 hours is usually better. I usually do this at night and then I check on it again in the morning and if there are any sticky spots I rub those down with a clean cloth before they fully dry. This is an important step and I do this 8 – 12 hour rub-down between every coat. That may seem like a lot of work but actually it is not. I tend to finish at night and rub down in the morning before I do anything else. The beauty of this finish is that I can let a coat of finish dry while I work in the shop. The dust will not hurt it at this point.
After the first coat is dry and ideally pretty hard (this may take longer than 24 hours) it is time to feel the finish. If it is smooth great you can move on, if not don’t sweat it. Take some very fine sandpaper and rub it down. Then give it another coat just like the first, only you do not have to let it soak as long. The thing I like to do on subsequent coats is to apply the finish with 0000 steel wool, and rub it in briskly. This to my taste gives the best finish whether I am using 221 or even if I am using just plain old Boiled Linseed Oil. Rub it in with the steel wool hard and wipe off the excess with a paper towel, wait a while, then rub it down dry. Wait overnight and buff it out in the morning.
Do this as often as required, but do not let the finish build up on the surface. You will know if you do because it will show as an obvious and really pretty awful glossy film. If you find that you have some patches like that don’t panic, this is why I love this finish it is fixable. You either rub it down hard with a cloth until the horrible gloss disappears or, if that does not get it, go back to 0000 steel wool dipped in finish and rub it out, then make sure you get all the excess wiped off this time.
The Final Coat
The final coat goes on like all the rest. The difference is not how it goes on but how and when you rub it down. For the last coat the morning after rub down is very important. I say the morning after because with the brand of varnish I am using that is about the right amount of time. What you want is to let the finish dry but do not let it get hard. Dry but not hard is usually about 8 – 12 hours later for the stuff I am using. Your time may vary, once you know how a particular brand behaves you will probably want to stay with that brand to avoid future surprises.
When you do the final rub down your cloth should start to drag just a little bit as you rub it down. Ideally it will drag enough to generate heat but not so much that it is a miserable job. This drag is important do not flip your towel let it build up heat. Put as much pressure on it as you can and let it generate some real heat, this will set the finish and bring it to a nice warm shine that shines, but is not glossy. Once you are satisfied with the shean and the surface you are done. Let it stand in a warm room for at least two full days before using it in anyway. It takes a long time for spar varnish to really get hard even in it’s unmixed state. Mixed like this it actually takes a fair bit longer. As I said earlier if you are in a big hurry this is not your finish, but if you have the time I think you will find that this finish will really reward your effort. And you can apply it while working on other things in your shop. Try that with a regular film finish sometime, you will see why I love this finish.
Drop Leaf Table in Alder
Previously I wrote about a small drop leaf table that I was trying to prototype and refine. I have finally finished what I think is the table I am happy with. It is roughly 36″ square when fully extended and roughly 12″ x 36″ when fully closed.
This table was really quite enjoyable to build and I think I will make more of these in order to fully perfect this form. The main differences between this one and the prototype I made earlier was using hand made rule joints on the leaves, doing away with the through mortises on the legs, and of course using Alder instead of salvage Hemlock. So in this article I wanted to be a bit more specific in showing the process of building this table, I took a lot of pictures so hopefully that will help if you ever get the urge to make a nice little table like this.
Building the table
The first challenge I faced was getting a harmonious set of boards for the top of the table. I had acquired a nice bunch of Alder but the pieces were not all that harmonious when I actually started laying them out for the project. I had some very attractive darker pieces with almost a quilted grain pattern, but not enough for the entire project. So I had to get clever. It is not easy to see in the picture at the right but I used the darkest and most flamboyant piece in the center of the table and then blended it to some lighter less figured wood toward the the edges. This seemed to my eye at least to be the most attractive arrangement, particularly when you realize that most of this tables life will be spent with the leaves down, so the center leaf will really be the focus of attention for anyone looking at the table in use.
The 8/4″ stock for the legs was also dark and somewhat figured so I had to save some of the dark figured wood for the rails as well or the whole project would have taken on a terrible Harlequin look. The remaining lighter wood I used for the unseen parts of the carcase. As you can see from the picture at the left there was a very significant difference in color and figure in this stack of Alder. It was however, very agreeable wood to work with. This was my first time working with Alder and I really loved it’s working properties. It cuts and planes wonderfully, even the highly figured pieces were nowhere near as ornery as Maple figured like this would have been. I was able to bring this entire project to a finish ready state with nothing but edge tools, in fact most of it was beautiful right off the plane. There were only a couple of small areas that were so woolly that I was not able to smooth it to my satisfaction with a normal plane so I had to use a cabinet scraper.
Once I had the basic layout of the pieces figured out I was ready to begin work. I started with the legs. In my prototype I used an octagonal taper for the legs, but for this one I wanted simpler lines so I opted for a more conventional two sided taper that gave the legs some grace and also gave the appearance of a slight splaying of the legs which I find absolutely necessary on a narrow table like this.
The first step was to mark out the various orientation of the legs and to number each of them. I learned on the prototype that it is exceptionally easy to confuse the orientation of parts during the construction of this table and this can quickly lead to disaster.
The next thing is to cut the tapers. I did this with nothing but planes and although it could be argued that a jig in my table saw would be faster, I think that is only true if you need to make a lot of these things. Because when you are done with the table saw you would have to tune each one up with a hand plane to get a decent finish on them anyway.
After you have marked out the taper on each leg you are ready to begin cutting the tapers. I used three planes for this. I started with a jack plane set for a fairly course cut, next a try plane set to a fine cut, and finally a smoother for the final finish.
To get started you begin on the narrow end of the taper taking short strokes until you have a short section of the taper running parallel to your guidelines. Once you have a good straight start you simply keep planing, your stoke will get longer with each pass. As you do this watch the leading edge of your cut. It should run as close to perfectly perpendicular as possible. This will assure that you are working straight down to your guideline on both sides without constant checking.
When you are finished you should get the following effect when you stack them together with the correct orientation. As you can see the legs give a nice splayed look even though they are in reality still just as straight as they were when I cut them. It was at this point I decided that I was not going to add the extra facets to make them octagonal. They looked nice the way they were. So I moved on.
The next thing I did was edge joint the top to prepare it for glue-up. Make sure that you do no more than you can easily handle because you want your joints to be glued up as perfectly as possible. If this means three separate glue-ups to get the entire table top together that is far better than trying to correct for a shifted joint later.
I glued up in three sections then the whole slab into one piece. I then made my final measurements and cut it into three pieces later on my table saw. I tried to build this entire table with hand tools but partitioning the top and ripping the legs from 8/4″ stock and cutting the 1/4″ cross-cut dado’s for the carcase were all jobs I ended up breaking down and using the table saw for. The hand tool equivalent for these tasks were either too hard or too risky for me. Sorry purists. Maybe next time.
Mortising the legs was another process that I changed after building the prototype. In the prototype I used through mortises and I chopped them with a chisel. However for this version of the table I wanted a cleaner look so I used stopped mortises that meet inside of the the leg. Then I used mitered tenons to bring the whole thing together. I find that stopped mortises are far easier to do to a clean consistent depth if you drill to depth first then follow up with a chisel. You can see in the next image what I was left with after I was done on the drill press.
It is a simple process then to clean out the motices to the proper depth. Be careful though, although you can get away with a lot cosmetically with this design, you do not want your mortises to get too loose and they must be absolutely square. Even a tiny amount of drift from square will be multiplied about 7 times by the length of the leg. Even a 1/32″ becomes very visible under these conditions. Think of the legs as built-in giant winding sticks and you get the idea.
Next up is fitting the tenons to the mortises. But before you try that you need to cut the side rails at the point that you want them to hinge on the knuckle joint. REMEMBER that your side rails need to be long enough to allow for the depth of your tenons AND remember that cutting the knuckle joint will shorten your rails by the the depth of your knuckle joint pins.
Once your rail pieces are cut to length you are ready to mark and cut your tenon shoulders. There is nothing complicated here, you just cut down to your lines. The next question is, do you saw your tenons or chisel them. This depends entirely on your material. I tried to chisel first but I found after the first one the the grain was just to hairy to do this consistently so I switched to the saw after the first one. I then cleaned them up with chisels and a rebate plane that I use in place of a shoulder plane (it actually works just fine and cost 10$ at a flea market it’s just not as cool as a shoulder plane). Next I need to fit the tenon to the mortise, so I had to fit the height to the height of the mortise.
This is simple just “show” the tenon to the mortise and transfer the exact height and placement to the tenon and cut the corners out with your dovetail saw. Don’t worry about cross-cut saws or rip saws here, people just say this stuff to sell saws. A 15 tooth dovetail or tenon saw filed rip will crosscut all day long just fine, just be sure to cut your lines to ensure that you get clean edges on your cut. Also make sure your saw is sharp, a dull saw will make a mess no matter how it is filed.
The last thing I do is to cut a small chamfer on the leading edges of the tenon this makes fitting and gluing much easier later. Then it is just a matter a careful paring and fitting of the tenons. One caution here, do not allow yourself to favor one side or the other as you pare and trim. It is possible to create a tenon that fits well but is no longer perfectly square and true with the face of the rail. This is another place where the length of the leg will serve as a 7x magnifier of your errors. This is easier to do than it sounds, so you have been warned.
Making the knuckle joint starts out very similar to the process for making a dovetail joint. Make sure that you have an odd number of fingers on your joint. No less than 5 for obvious reasons.The other peculiar thing is that you want to mark your baseline to twice the depth on the inside of the joint on the side with the most fingers (in my case the side with three fingers. Because the 2 sockets on this half of the joint need to be relieved to a 45 degree angle to allow for free movement of the hinge.
The two pictures at the right should make it pretty clear how straight forward this is. Once you have the 45 degree cuts let in it is a simple task to remove the waste with a sharp chisel. The mating piece is cut square like a box joint. When you have both pieces cut test fit them, they should fit very tight. It would be a big mistake to build a joint like this with a loose fit. You have a lot of leverage when you use this joint so you do not have to worry it will work just fine even if it is very tight. And it will only get looser with time. Just don’t force it and split your joint open.
The real trick comes next. It is absolutely essential that this joint be drilled perfectly plumb on both axis. If it is off either way it will either be crooked when it is closed or crooked when it is open. No matter how much of a hand tools freak you are, you should use a drill press for this and drill from both sides and measure very carefully. And you still might have trouble. In my prototype I messed this up and drifted ever so little on one of my joints. This tiny error was very visible when the leg was extended. Once again the length of the leg magnifies the tiniest error. In fact as simple as this table is in principle in reality it can be a bit of a challenge to build because the carcase has to be perfect or the legs will not look straight. There are several steps where even a small error can really have a big effect. Once the holes are drilled then I just used a stainless steel pin (the store was out of brass in the size I wanted) and drove it in over the anvil on my vise. This mushroomed each end just slightly, which is all it takes to keep the pins from falling out. Now it is time to shift the focus to assembling the carcase.
I start by building nice square sub-assemblies I glue the rails to the legs making sure they are absolutely square. Then I begin cutting the inner carcase. This is another task that I used my table saw for. Mostly because I did not have any hand tools that could cut a 1/4″ crosscut dado that close to the end of a board. So I used a stack dado set for this task. Again the only trick here is to make sure that everything is square and straight. Clamp it up on something that you know is flat. And practice before you start to use glue.
If you are careful this is the most enjoyable part of the process because now it all starts to come together. Once this is done all that is left is fitting the top and applying the finish. And if you have been careful up to this point to smooth each piece before assembly the finishing process goes much faster as well. Since I have not provided any measurements for this table there is one design element to bare in mind. The swinging leg needs to clear whatever hardware you are using and the hinge needs to be placed so that it supports the leaf but does not obviously extend beyond the leaf. In the case of this table that was around 3′ long by 1′ wide folded with 12″ leaves I needed the leg to swing in an arch with about an 11″ radius. And I had an overhang of about 3″ on each end.
Next up is the rule joint for the top. I am assuming that the top is cut to size and the edges are jointed. This is the step I think I spent the most time obsessing about and in the end I think it was the most fun of anything I did on this table. My first thought was to use a router with matching cove and bead bits. But although I had two of these sets one was too big and the other far too small. So I went to town wasted 2 hours and found nothing helpful so I came home and made a hand plane for the job (I wrote about that project here). Making a rule joint by hand seemed a bit frightening at first, but once I did it I found myself thinking, “what was all the fuss about?”.
The first step is to mark the profile you are going for on each end of the material. Then with a cutting gauge follow that profile all the way down the length of the leaf. Honestly you just plane down to these marks. But I did experiment a bit first and I do have some advice if you have never done this. Use a fence. This made all the difference. For the cove I planed a bevel with a block plane down to the point where I was near the longitudinal marks but not all the way to them.
Then I clamped a straight piece of wood to guide the molding plane for the first few strokes until I had a nice groove cut in the middle of what will be the cove. Then I moved the fence back but I did not remove it because it protected me from slipping out of the cut and scaring the table top (or bottom). Once you get going you just plane until you hit all your marks. When it looks right it is right.
The bead portion of the joint is actually even easier than that. I used the same plane to do the whole thing. My old 10 buck metal rebate plane. It works so well I use it for both rebating and as a shoulder plane. I am not saying I would not like a nice LN shoulder plane but this works.
I started out by clamping my fence to the center leaf and just cutting a rebate down to the top of the curved profile. Then I just rounded over the bead by eye leaving the fence in place to protect the pristine edge on the top. This not only worked on the first try it left barely perceptible facets in the bead which looks clean but hand made. I liked it so much I did not even sand it when I was done.
I did do just a bit of final fitting by taking a pass or two here or there and I also relieved the under side of the bead to allow just a bit of clearance when the leaf is folded down. How much depends on a lot of factors. The key variable is the exact position of the hinge pivot when your hinges are mounted. What I did was to locate this position as perfectly as I could then I took my compass and traced the arch of the bead and looked at how much I needed to clip off the bottom edge to allow the cove to rotate without rubbing.
In my case I needed a very small amount of rounding on the bottom edge which is a good thing since it prevents any possibility of the edge catching when you put down the leaf and doing something nasty. As you can see at the left the rounding at the bottom of the bead is barely visible.
I used hardware store hinges for this which I felt bad about but real deal rule joint hinges are so expensive that it would have nearly doubled the cost of this project. It seemed a high price to pay for something nobody would ever see. And the hinges I did choose were very strong so I was not worried about the functional quality of the hinge. It just looks a bit sad when you tip it upside down and see those 5$ a pair hinges. Maybe next time. Cutting in the barrel of the hinge is also easy I just mortised them in with a 1/4″ chisel. Be careful though you do not want to get careless and cut in so deep you break through the bead. In my case there was not a lot of wood left between the barrel mortice and the bead. This is a case where hand tools are beyond all doubt better than power tools.
Unless you plan on going in production on this sort of thing cutting these rule joints by hand was quieter, safer, and easier to adjust and perfect than trying to set all this up for power tools. I did all of this in a couple of hours of actual work.
The top is held on with a couple of screws into the center leaf and then it is ready for final finishing. I cut a wide but shallow chamfer around the perimeter of the bottom of the tabletop to “lighten” the look of the top. I also put a small conventional chamfer around the perimeter of the top just to finish it off. Some might prefer to route the edges of the table but I was going for a very simple look to this table. The wood has a sort of quilted grain pattern that give the piece a lot of visual interest so I wanted the rest to be fairly understated.
As for the finish I used about 4 coats of a home blended oil finish. One part Boiled linseed oil, two parts turpentine, and two part spar varnish. I call this 221 and I really like it. It produces no surface build but soaks in deeply and is very tough for an oil finish. The prototype table has nothing but three coats of this on it and the people that are using it, take no special precautions when placing drinks on it. They use it like any other table and have had no trouble. I have written a full post on this here, it is a finish I have used in one form or another for many years and I really love it.
Building a new molding plane
Building a new molding plane
Recently I needed a router bit that I did not have. I looked at my favorite router bit store and they had nothing in the size I needed. So, I was left with no real alternative but to build a plane in that profile… right? (it sounded good in my head anyway)
I saw a plane like this a while ago for sale on the internet and I thought, “how hard could it be?”. Weirdly, it was not actually all that hard. I had an old stanley blade and some cutting wheels for my dremel so I found a few maple scraps and went for it. Some days are just good shop days I had the plane to the shape you see it on the right in just over 3 hours. (I fiddled around for two hours looking for a router bit, just for the sake of comparison.)
That would be the end of the story but it turns out that building the plane to this point was really just the beginning. What I learned is that a plane with a standard top ejection system does not work all that well when you reduce the width of the blade down to the sizes used in smaller molding planes. This plane has a 3/8″ wide cambered blade and when I started to actually use it I learned very quickly why almost all molding planes of this sort have a giant hole drilled through the side. The plane as shown above was almost impossible to keep from fouling. So my initial success was not good enough to really use. It looked like I had to risk a whole afternoons work to try and salvage this project. So I went for my forstner bit and hoped for the best.
It really was a good shop day because just eyeballing the placement of the hole actually turned out pretty well. And now this thing is almost impossible to choke with chips. Finally I am ready to use this plane in place of the router bit I could not find.
That took me to the next thing I learned. Using a plane of this sort requires a fair bit of practice. My first attempts at making a cove in the size I needed turned out horribly. But after destroying a few useless pieces of scrap I learned how to use this plane for making a cove profile in sizes from 3/8″ to 1/2″. The secret it turns out is getting started straight and clean. Once I learned to use a fence to get started I was making consistent successful coves. I was finally able to create a respectable rule joint on the table I am working on, which was the reason I went down this road in the first place.
The construction of this plane was really very straight forward, it is just a Krenov style plane with a rounded bottom. After the success of this plane I plan on making a couple more of these in some other sizes. Curiously the other thing I learned is that I do not need hollow planes as much as I thought I did. I was able to make the bead portion of the rule joint with nothing more than a rebate plane. So for the time being rounds are in and hollows can wait. The blades for hollow planes are really hard to grind and sharpen anyway.
Split top saw bench
Building a split top saw bench from salvage
After burning off some excess calories hand planing some rough cut fifty year old salvage lumber into usable material I realized it was just the right amount to build a saw bench similar to one I saw here.
I liked the design of the that saw bench but I decided after I started building mine that the lower stretchers were completely unnecessary and would only end up being something to stub my toes on. What looks like a stretcher in the picture on the right is really a drop in fence that fits in the center slot. This makes a nice backstop when cross-cutting that can be easily removed and stowed below when not needed. And although this picture does not show it, I doubled the thickness of the top as well so that I can drill the top to accommodate my holdfasts when needed.
For the top I chose the best of the lot, slow grown pine of some variety with over 50 rings per inch. I suspect this was locally grown at high altitude, it was wonderful wood but a bit brittle in some ways.
I chose the two best pieces for the top and the legs since that was really the guts of the project and decided to use dovetail joints to connect the top to the legs.
I also cut through mortises in the feet to accommodate the tenons on the legs. The picture at the right shows the pieces ready for assembly. Because I was designing the benches dimensions to match the salvage wood, the legs were considerably narrower than the tops. Though now that it is done I think there is actually going to be some advantage to that arrangement. It gives more clearance when ripping using the center slot for example.
The length of the bench was determined by the material at hand so 32 inches was the longest clear piece I could get of the really nice material. The lower quality stuff with checks and a few knots were used as backing under the top since no one would ever see it.
The assembly was very straight forward since the joinery was simple and the wood was very straight. After glue up I added pins to the mortise and tenon joints to add mechanical strength to the glue. When finished this bench is absolutely rock solid. A few coats of boiled linseed oil and it was done. Turned out so well, it seems almost a shame to use it (well almost).
Hand tool workout
As I have gotten older, my doctor gets more and more persistent in telling me to get more exercise. I guess that’s normal. However, I pretty much hate conventional exercise. It has always seemed like the most pointless use of time and energy on the planet to me, so it has been a challenge to find something I would actually do consistently. But recently I have had a minor epiphany. Why not figure more exercise into something I already love to do?
For years I have been the type that believed their was no sense in doing something by hand that could be done better and faster with machines that I already own. And when it came to squaring and rough dimensioning stock that went double. Because it always seemed to take forever to do those things by hand. Plus the psychological stress of having my table saw standing next to me mocking me the whole time.
But recently I have salvaged some old rough sawn 2x stock that seemed like nice old slow grown fir so I thought I would go after these by hand. What I found was that I really got a respectable workout just by taking one 4 foot section and bringing it down to a tried and true state. It was then I had my moment. I thought, hey I hate working out but this was fun. It was a challenge to take each unique piece and deal with it’s particular issues (including one of them that had a broken off screw tip buried in it) and making a really nice usable piece of lumber out of it.
I have used salvaged wood all my life, and have learned to really love it. My father taught me this when I was young on the farm. We did not throw anything away until it had proven itself to be truly useless, everything, especially building supplies were salvaged and recycled. We did not tear down old sheds we disassembled them. As a kid, I did not appreciate the wisdom in this style of living, but over the years it has become a part of who I am as well. But up till now the heavy lifting was done by machines as much as possible. No more, now salvage has become a twofer. Free wood and a great workout.
A side benefit of this and one I did not really expect was that through repetition you can get much faster at truing up stock. And much of the painstaking work with winding sticks and gauges is replaced by feel and eye. There is also an art to choosing a strategy for flattening and straightening a piece that develops with time. These challenges have turned a job that I have always hated into an interesting exercise of mind and body.
In the end, I get some nice wood for free. A good workout for my upper body. Hand and eye skills that help me in every aspect of my work. And an impressive pile of really nice shavings. (I am amazed at how many people comment on the shavings, when they enter my shop).
So for the future I think this is going to be my workout regimen. It is quiet with no machines running. The air is not filled with dust. And when I am done not only do I have a nice stack of free wood to work with, but I know every inch of every one of those boards when it comes time to make something with them.
For this stack I had two ideas from my longstanding ToDo list. My first thought when I felt how heavy and dense two of these pieces were, was to use them as chops for a Moxon vise. But after a closer examination of the whole stack, I think I will wait for the right two pieces of true hardwood to come along and use this stack to build a variation on some of the nicer split top saw benches I have been seeing around the internet lately.
I will very likely post a report on this saw bench when I get it finished. So, it looks like there will be more fun to come for this stack of dumpster gold.
Drop leaf table prototype
Recently several young friends of mine decided to get married. As a couple of them were looking through some of my woodworking magazines they stumbled across this little drop leaf table in an old issue of Woodsmith magazine and fell in love. Their appartment is small and I have to admit to liking many things about this table myself so I decided to build a prototype to see if this design would be as handy in real life and it would appear in the photos.
I had a stack of salvage Hemlock so I thought I would give it a try. This design has a very fun knuckle joint on each side that allows the legs on opposite corners to swing out to 90 degrees. supporting the leaves. It turns out that while these joints are not difficult to make it is pretty easy to allow the holes for the pins to wander slightly. So it was well worth my time making this prototype before I started using more expensive material. The length of the legs magnifies even the tiniest error in the pins. The other difference between this prototype and the final version is that I want to use a proper rule joint for the leaves in the final version.
Those small problems aside I think I do like the design over all and now all I have to do is find a little cash for some decent wood and build a couple of good ones.
Modern Woodworking Myths
I have been deeply enjoying the modern revival of hand tools and classical woodworking techniques. I have been a fan of Roy Underhill since the beginning of his career. And Chris Schwarz is a fantastic spokesman for this movement. However, as with all things, when they gain a certain amount of popularity many things get taught as fact that are at best a matter of opinion if not an outright myth. I am going to try to explain a few of my favorite myths and trends surrounding hand tool woodworking.
The too slippery bench
I have heard lots of variations on this one. I have even seen a guy on YouTube take a toothing plane to his freshly minted benchtop so that he can avoid the perils of the “too slippery benchtop”. One of the reasons people don’t want to use film finishes on bench tops (my next myth) is fear of slipperiness. Seriously, I am 55 years old and built my first bench at 13 and never had a mishap due to benchtop slipperiness. Now, I would not want a bench with a formica top or anything ridiculous like that but within reason, smooth is good, because what I have had is little things hiding on my bench that have scratched my work. Smooth makes these pesky little scratchers easier to see and to feel. That is why I cringed at the thought of cutting thousands of little junk catching crevices into an otherwise beautiful benchtop with a toothing plane. I love a silky smooth benchtop because beside being nice to touch, and a benchtop is something I touch a lot, it is also very easy to check for cleanliness with a simple swoosh of my hand. If your work is slipping around you are not clamping it correctly or you have a poorly designed bench. Simply making your benchtop less “slippery” will not fix any of the real problems with design or technique.
No film finishes on bench tops
This one is a bit more understandable to me, but this is nothing like a rule. I have been using a bench with a spar varnish finish since 1985. This finish made it very easy to clean up glue drips and since I do not have a hardwood benchtop the spar varnish (especially 30 year old spar varnish) adds a lot of toughness to the top. I recently scraped the finish off stopping just short of the wood’s surface. The benchtop was in remarkable shape for its age. I looked it over, checked it with a straightedge, and threw a coat of BLO on it and called it a day. It is hard for me to criticize a finish that did so well for so long.
The 30 second sharpening technique
As tempting as it is to think there is a magical sharpening technique that makes sharpening easy and quick and painless, in my experience there is no such thing. The only thing that will increase your speed at sharpening is practice, and of course not waiting too long between sharpenings. Sometimes it does take only 30 seconds to restore an edge, but don’t count on it. That 30 seconds does not take into account care for your stones, occasional regrinds, nicks, or very dull blades. But don’t worry, sharpening does go quicker with practice and make sure that whatever system you end up going with, you use it for long enough to really get good at it. For me just getting a new stone throws me off for quite some time until I get the feel of the new stone. So use the same tools and practice until you get good with them. Personally I am a hand sharpener because to me the best sharpening system is the the one with the fewest gadgets and tricks. To me the skill is the thing, because the skill will easily transfer to other tasks. Getting good with a jig that holds your blade at the perfect angle is of no use when you need to sharpen a molding plane or a carving gouge.
My best advice on all of this:
Sharpen a little bit and often. I think in the long run, this is the fastest and least annoying way to sharpen. Whatever way you ultimately decide is best. Eliminating annoyance is very important. Because if sharpening is annoying or overly-complicated you won’t do it as often as you should.
Practice, Practice, Practice…
I need a lot of planes
(Oh wait that is actually true)
There are lots of people out there pontificating on the “correct bench height” or something similar. Many books have been written and many videos have been made. The best advice I ever read on this came from Jim Tolpin’s book. I think Jim gives great advice generally and his discussion on bench height is no exception. In my experience the best height for me when doing general work is around the height of my wrist from the ground. [Updated 3.14.16]Jim Tolpin also recently created a video about calculating bench height which is very, very good, it is based on his recent work with whole number proportions in design from his book By Hand and Eye. I once watched a video by Paul Sellers which I thought was a very sober discussion of the topic as well. He was saying his bench was 38″ high, but then he mentioned he was around six feet tall. Well let’s just say I am not, and leave it at that (lot of bad high school memories there). After doing a bit of basic math I realized that functionally my bench was roughly the same height as his. Before we go any farther let me explain how I really determined the height of all my benches and it turns out they are also all (but one) at my wrist height. I have a small shop (12’x24′), I own a table saw and a compound miter saw, and sometimes I use sheet stock. The table saws height became the standard for my wall length CMS bench as well as my hand tool bench. This way my hand tool bench doubles as an outfeed table for my table saw and my CMS bench becomes a very sturdy outrigger for supporting sheet stock when I am trying reduce 4×8 sheets down to workable sized pieces. So the correct height for all my benches is 34 1/4″. There you have it, the correct answer for bench heights. (kidding) I also have a 30″ and a very small 38″ surface. Both of which are very handy for specific tasks. So my final advice is this, don’t let anyone pull your chain, your bench(s) must fit you, your work, and your shop or they are wrong.
Hating on Boiled Linseed Oil
Boiled Linseed Oil or BLO is the second finish I learned to use on wood. I don’t count paint because I consider paint an insult to fine woodworking. You might as well use MDF if paint is the final destination. Just my opinion, I know paint is a trend that comes and goes and now I guess I need to learn to use Milk Paint. sigh. Anyway I was taught about BLO in 8th grade shop class. Mostly because it was basically impossible to screw it up and it could be done in a dusty shop with and bunch of kids messing around. Now I know BLO is not the be all and end all of finishes far from it. Especially if you wish to get paid for your work. A good BLO finish literally takes forever, you are never really done. But there are certain applications for BLO that nothing I have ever used can match.
Hand tools – Infinite repairability and a tactile sense that nothing else can match make this the ultimate tool finish as far as I am concerned. And if they get scratched or start looking dull and lifeless you just put on another coat and it will take on the most satisfying glow of any finish I know. Plus if you miscalculate and find you need to use that tool one more time before the end of the day you just pick it up and use it. no harm, no foul. Try that with any other finish beside maybe wax and see what happens. And wax makes me uncomfortable because other finishes are effected by it. BLO is compatible with most things (not water based I assume but then I don’t really like water based finishes for wood either).
Bench tops – BLO is the only finish that just keeps getting better year after year. I have 2 benches turning 30 this year that have had countless coats of BLO applied over the years and they really have that awesome deep glow and silky feeling that I absolutely love. It does not make your benchtop too slippery (see notes above) and it is infinitely fixable. And the best part is that you can re-coat it naturally every time you finish something else (with oil) on your bench. Whatever dribbles or is left over you simply rub into your benchtop. It’s a win, win.
In combination with turpentine and spar varnish – this finish has been a real workhorse for me over the last 40 years. I have written a more detailed article about the application process for this finish. I actually make it in 3 flavors depending on the characteristics I am after. I use a 3 digit code on my containers to keep track of them.
111 – This is 1 part Spar, 1 part Turpentine, 1 part BLO. This is the classic homemade oil finish it works well but dries a bit slow. But it does dry unlike BLO by itself.
221 – This is one I use a lot – 2 parts Spar, 2 parts Turpentine, 1 part BLO. This is a very thin deep penetrating finish with a proportionately higher content of varnish making it an excellent sealing finish. It dries within 24 hours and within 3 or 4 coats sanding lightly between gives you a sheen and texture that is warm and soft with no surface build up. It is like very smooth richly colored wood. You don’t notice the finish at all, just the beauty of the wood.
122 – I will let you do the math on this one. This has the slowest drying of the three but has enough spar in it to help it really set up. I usually just use BLO instead of this one. But it is useful in it’s place.
Metal Bench Dogs
This is my personal rant. I think I understand historically why they would put metal teeth on bench stops and so forth. But I have to admit to being puzzled at why this trend has continued. I do not own any bench dogs that have not at some point been at least grazed by an edge tool. Every time one of these little mishaps occurs I find myself thinking, if that were a metal dog I would be sharpening this tool now. Then I smile and continue working with my nice sharp edge tool. Now I see two main reasons why people use metal bench dogs.
That is what everyone sells – since wooden ones can be made for virtually nothing by anyone. No market there.
To withstand the earth shattering pressures applied by modern tail vises, etc. I would say, don’t use that much pressure it will only distort and/or damage your stock. Plus, if you have to put that much force into holding something, there is probably a better way to hold your work.
The only metal dog that makes any sense at all(but I still don’t use them) is the old time dog with teeth on the top that is designed to keep your work from riding over the dog. Learn good technique with your planes and be more thoughtful when flattening your work and this will not be a problem in my experience.
Personally I use a full width wooden bench stop that is height adjustable and as simple as oatmeal, and it has the added feature of directing most of the chips off your bench and on to the floor which is where they belong. I usually do not have to secure the work at all. When I do, a batten or small wooden benchdog or even a holdfast will do the trick. I also have a V notched piece of MDF that I use to hold smaller stock for edge work. No clamps, no dogs, no expensive vises. I feel I need to give Jim Tolpin proper credit for this little gizmo since I adapted it from a picture is his book as well. Once I made this I could not imagine being without it. It is on my benchtop as much as my bench hook.
What benchdogs do I use? – Mostly the worlds simplest wooden bench dogs. A piece of 3/4″ dowel and a scrap of hardwood with a hole in it. They sit in my holdfast holes as needed and I keep a box of them under my bench in different sizes and thicknesses. I never find myself wishing they were made of brass or steel.
That is my take on current trends in woodworking. Sometimes the simplest answers really are the best.
I will never see a saw the same again
Recently, I built a dovetail saw using parts from Blackburn Tools. It was a fun project but far more challenging than I anticipated.
I bought all the metal parts as a kit from Blackburn Tools, I already had the rosewood and figured it would be a fairly simple project. This was before I started cutting. Shaping the handle was actually fun, I had a variety of templates that I downloaded from Two Guys in a Garage. I chose a handle design with two bolts since that is what was included in the kit. But it was about at this time that I really started to appreciate the saw makers art.
I decided it was time to cut the saw kerf to receive the blade and I thought I would try a technique that I found on YouTube. It was a simple enough looking plan that involved pinching the new blade between two pieces of wood and clamping the whole stack to the bench top. Simple enough. Then I began slowly working the saw into the wood exactly in the middle. Again no problem – until I got in deeper and the thin blade began to follow the grain in the handle blank. Not a lot but enough. Well I fought with this a while and finally got the saw kerf what I considered at the time to be “good enough” (it wasn’t but I went on). I thought it was time to drill for the split nut saw bolts I had. I learned for the 1000th time that speed and confidence can be a good way to waste material and time.
Long story short. I cut a new blank and left the other one on my bench to remind me to be more careful.
The next thing I learned about building a back saw is that the mortise for the back needs to be let in with a freakish level of accuracy. My brother is a machinist and I am sure he would have been horrified by the way I did this with a chisel and a mallet. But I finally got the mortise done and was ready to try to put the whole thing together. The fit was not bad but I did have to shim one side with a piece of paper in order to keep the blade from distorting when the bolts were tightened down. A few thousandths is enough to make a difference here.
I then set the back on the blade according to the instructions on Blackburns site (very helpful site). And sharpened it up as a rip saw with a 0 degree rake angle. I was so excited until I tried to cut something with it and found that it was not a smooth cutting saw at all. The hang angle was not what it should of been it turns out. After reading a couple of articles on hang angle and contemplating making yet another handle for this saw I found another article on Blackburns site discussing the relationship between hang angle and rake angle. After relaxing my rake angle by 4 degrees I finally had a saw that I truly enjoyed using.
Now I just need to put about 10 more coats of Boiled linseed oil on the handle until it looks and feels the way I like it.
Bottom line, there is a reason why quality saws are expensive. But it was fun to build a saw from the ground up, I learned more about how a saw works in the few days I worked on this saw than in all the years of previous woodworking combined. (Which is more years than I care to mention.)
If you decide to do this save yourself a ton of trouble and read the entire set of articles on the Blackburn site that takes you from start to finish in the process of building a saw. You will be glad you did.
Tool chest or wall storage?
Lately it seems there has been endless buzz around building tool chests. Recently I joined the fray and built a small Dutch tool chest myself and found it to be an extremely rewarding project. However, in practice I am not sure a tool chest is always the right choice as a way to organize and store your tools. In fact I think the real question becomes, “How, or possibly more important where, do I work?”. Am I working in a dedicated shop space, or am I working in a shared space. Do I need to travel with my tools? These questions are the most important to me when deciding what kind of tool storage to build.
Twenty-five years ago I built a toolbox in the “french fit” style. The whole thing had no wasted space. Everything went together like a jigsaw puzzle. At the time I was moving across the country and did not want to leave all my tools behind. I had visions of opening up this sweet toolbox and working wherever and whenever I could find the time and the space, since I was leaving my basement workshop behind. The problem is, it turns out that that kind of toolbox is really not very handy when it comes time to actually use it. You end up taking everything out when you want to do some actual work and then take a bunch of time to fit it all back in again when you are done. I think of that toolbox often when I look at works of art like the Studley toolchest. It’s fun to look at, but does it really work as anything but a beautiful piece of storage art? I can’t even imagine working on an actual project and needing a tool buried in that massive tangle of tools.
Some years later I once again had a dedicated workshop space. It took me no time at all to abandon that toolbox and put all my tools on nice accessible shelves. In the 40+ years I have been involved with woodworking I think I have to say that tool chests of all kinds should only be used if you have to travel a lot with your tools. If you have a consistent work space, by far the most efficient way to store tools is on simple (or relatively simple) shelves. In my experience the best tool storage is to put your tools on shelves that are easily visible and take the specific tools you want for the operation at hand and move them to your workbench tray. Or a shelf under your workbench. Shelf – not a drawer and not a cabinet, it is all about visibility and easy access as far as I am concerned. Any storage system that does not offer those two features in abundance is an inferior system in my opinion. The other huge advantage of using this system is it takes up no floor space. And unless you have an enormous shop, floor space is your most valuable commodity.
These days the only things I keep in drawers are things I need to keep absolutely clean, like paper. Or small things I don’t use very often like various drill and router bits or my files and rasps. But I know exactly where each of those items are so it still works. For the rest of my things it is shelves.
You may notice that they are not pretty. You are right, but they work and they are easy to change and rearrange as my tool set and needs change. Building a work of art with a place for everything you own is great until you get a couple of new tools. Then what? Build a new work of art? Not if you like to build something other than tool chests and cabinets.
So for my money (and time), a combination of shelves and the trays on my bench are the most flexible and efficient setup.
One final comment, Christopher Schwarz makes a pretty big deal about dirt and its relationship to rust. I would make two comments on that. If your tools are gathering dust you should probably sell them because you are not using them enough. I’m kidding (sort of), but I will say with all seriousness that one of the huge advantages in moving to using primarily hand tools is that my shop stays remarkably clean now. And my second comment is if you live in a damp area you need to do whatever is necessary to protect your tools. I have lived in a humid area with a basement shop and now I live in a dry area with a heated shop. The need for protection from the elements varies widely depending on where you live and work. Do what you have to but don’t obsess on this unless you are having real problems. The sweat from my (or my grandchildren’s) hands is the biggest worry where I live, and that is easy enough to manage.
To sum up
If you work in a consistent dedicated space, use shelves and move whatever tools you need immediately to your bench. Make sure your shelving is not so fancy that you can not easily change and update it.
If you work in a shared space, then build a tool chest similar to the anarchist’s tool chest. Make sure it has good wheels on it and leave it as open as you can.
If you can not store your tools in the space where you work then look at something like a dutch chest. And I would suggest that you build a modular unit with a separate upper and lower chest. Making sure that neither of the chests is bigger or heavier than you can move around by yourself.
Small Dutch Tool Chest
My grandson is coming of age and wanted some tools for Christmas. This was just the excuse I needed to build a small dutch tool chest. I opted to build a smaller than usual Dutch tool chest with no lower storage. As he was only 10 I did not think he needed a very big toolbox to start off. However, as I got into this project I was surprised by just how much space was available even in a single compartment chest.
A standard Dutch toolchest has a much shallower main compartment with another compartment under it that you access through a removable front panel. Since this was for a young boy with few tools and even less space I opted for this design. A deeper main compartment with three small removable sliding tills.
So using Christopher Schwarz’s method for guaging the depth of the top compartment I measured the depth of the biggest tool that would be stored in this space and made sure it would fit under the tills. This left and overall height of about 16 to 18 inches. For the depth I just made it the depth of a standard 1×12.
The tills are stepped in height and ride on oak rails glued along the apron in front of the tool rack and the front of the case.
After making a couple of marking gauges, squares, and clamps. I had a tool kit ready for Christmas morning.